Authors: Kendall Talbot
From Romantic Book of the Year winner Kendall Talbot comes an adrenaline-fuelled new series with sexy characters, exotic locations, and action-packed adventure.
The last place Rosalina expected the clue to a 700-year-old mystery to lead is back into the arms of Archer, the one man who broke her heart. But neither can solve the puzzle without the other, so together they set off on a new adventure, weaving from Tuscany's underbelly to Archer's luxurious yacht in the Greek Islands, trying to ignore the sparks that still fly unhindered between them.
Archer desperately wants to salvage the relationship he shattered years before, but fighting for Rosalina's love soon takes a back seat to fighting for their lives. They aren't the only one on the trail for the treasure, and their competition isn't bothered by ethics and morals to achieve their goals. With evil close on their trail, and Archer wrestling with the remnants of a childhood tragedy, Rosalina begins to wonder if perhaps there are some secrets that were never meant to be revealed.
Kendall Talbot is an award-winning author of romantic suspense and crime. She's also a thrill seeker, hopeless romantic and a bucket-list achiever who loves to travel. These experiences drive her passion to write compelling stories of adventure, mystery and love. Her debut novel,
Lost in Kakadu
(Escape Publishing, 2013), won the Romantic Book Of The Year 2014 (RuBY).
Kendall has travelled extensively, some 36 countries and counting. She loves adventures that make her screamâ¦white-water rafting, scuba diving with sharks and hang gliding to name just a few. Her stories reflect her sense of adventure and her long-running love affair with her very own hero.
To my wonderful husband, for his love, passion and support, and also for suffering through my first drafts so we can talk about my characters as if they're real people.
To my sons, who I'm so very proud of.
To my sister and mum, who provide endless encouragement.
To my dad and step-dad, may you both rest in peace.
To my girlfriends and our Friday afternoon cuppas where we never boil the kettle.
To my writing buddies who provide inspiration, hope and honest feedback.
To my readers, thank you for making this dream a reality.
Thank you all.
To my amazing sons, Jordan and Alex â may there be adventure in your lives forever.
June 14, 1992
Moments like these were said to happen in slow motion. Not for Archer Mahoney. From the instant he saw the cold terror reflected in his father's eyes, everything happened at full speed.
Archer spun in the surging water as a shark with eyes as black as onyx shot past him. He clawed at the water, reaching for his father's buoyancy vest. Archer should stay still but he couldn't help it. To keep track of the beast he was forced to spin around. Again and again the shark circled, trapping them in an invisible ring. The plastic sides of Archer's mask narrowed his vision and a couple of times, the only way he knew the shark had passed was the surge of the water. His bright yellow board shorts wafted in the current, making him an obvious target, and for the first time in months he wished he had the protection of a wetsuit.
Sunlight pierced the water, glistening off the shark's back as if it were solid metal. But what scared Archer the most was its silence. Knowing the monster was there when all he heard was his own ragged breathing terrified him. The beast swam past again, but this time it kept going. Archer let out a long, slow breath as the shark faded into the deep blue.
But then it turned. The shark tracked towards him with deadly efficiency, on a mission. It darted at him and when Archer's father yanked him back it flicked away again. This time it disappeared over a coral outcrop. The water felt heavy, squeezing tight around Archer's bare chest. He sucked in another breath, the sound sharp and short as the air shot from his tank to his regulator.
Don't hold your breath
. It was the first rule of scuba diving, according to his father's frequent lectures.
With five more minutes to wait at the decompression stop, he now regretted tricking his father into continuing the dive. It was entirely his fault they'd blown their dive time limit. Hovering in the water like this, exposed and without any defences, was as scary as hell. To surface now would risk decompression sickness, but to remain in the water with a curious shark was just as deadly.
Archer's father reached down to his ankle holster and unclipped his dive knife, but Archer's relief at seeing the weapon was short-lived. The three inches of steel with the flat top was hardly a knife at all. Sure it was useful at cutting a diver free from trawler netting or fishing line, but against a man-eater, it would be like attacking a monster with a toothpick.
Crystal clear water allowed Archer to see at least fifty metres of the surrounding ocean. The shark was still out of sight, but so was the boat's anchor line, absorbed into the deep blue. With a pounding heart, he wondered how far they'd drifted. Despite the comfortable twenty-five-degree water, he shivered. He wanted to rub some warmth into his exposed arms and legs, but fear paralysed him. His mind, on the other hand, raged. Had the shark gone? Or was it preparing for a final attack?
His father's usual steely gaze had shifted to wide darting eyes, and his grip became a vice around Archer's bicep. Archer checked his dive watch again. His clenched knuckles were bone white, as if he were trying to force the seconds out of it.
The shark appeared again, slicing through the water with deadly precision. With a flash of steel his father lunged with the knife, but the stubby blade missed. Archer's heart thundered in his ears as he thrashed around, trying to follow the beast's erratic path. His father was right there with him.
The shark's teeth, row after row of pointed razors, were scary. But its eyes, evil vacant eyes, scared Archer even more.
The attack came from nowhere. Archer snapped his legs back, but this time the shark's teeth tore through the skin above his knee. Stinging pain blazed through his leg as a crimson cloud of blood swirled into the water.
His father hand-signed âboat' and ignored the time constraints to shove him upwards. Panic forced his arms and legs into action and Archer clawed his way to the surface. He punched through the water, pulled his mask to his neck and scoured the horizon.
But all he saw were white-crested waves. The boat wasn't there.
September 17, 2011
Archer sat up. A scream burned his throat and sweat-soaked sheets twisted around his body.
Rosalina was quick to switch on the bedside lamp and he squinted against the glare. âOh baby, another nightmare?' Her warm hand was of little comfort on his shoulder.
Determined to shake the horror, he covered his face with his hands and breathed deeply, but it was useless. The nightmare was a parasite, every night nibbling at his sanity, piece by piece.
âWant some water?'
Archer nodded, not trusting his voice.
Rosalina wore only a pair of white underpants that hugged her athletic curves. He focused on her well-toned bottom as she walked towards the door.
The night outside was his enemy, mocking him with its soothing darkness and yet at the same time declaring many more hours until morning. He wouldn't get back to sleep. He never did.
Rosalina returned with a glass of water and he gulped down the cool liquid.
âThat was a bad one. Do you want to talk about it?' She sat down on the edge of the bed.
âIt might help.'
âI said no.' He threw off the sheets and strode to the window. How many times had he done this? When Rosalina wrapped her arms around him, he wondered how many times she had too. And how many more would the future hold? What kind of a life was this?
Her warm breasts pressed into his back as she planted kisses across his shoulders. The nightmares were his punishment, and his only. Not one that he needed to share, let alone with the woman he loved. Her suffering like this was selfish. It had to stop.
The hairs on his neck bristled with desire as he softened under her caress. She ran her hands over his chest and he melted into her embrace. Rosalina knew how to bring back his sanity. He had no idea how he could live without her. But he had to. Somehow.
He turned to her. The wetness of her eyes glistened in the glow through the window. Seeing her like this, hurting for him, suffering through the nightmares as much as he did, it was enough to convince him it was time to step back. They'd become too close. He could never give her what she deserved. In that instant, he knew he had to let her go. It was best for Rosalina and although it would hurt her, it was the right thing to do.
He kissed the salty tears from her lips, and when she opened her mouth their tongues met in a dance of hot lust. It took all his willpower to withdraw. He weaved his fingers into her long hair, and as he clutched her to his chest he stared out over the marina. His mind twisted and bucked. Despite his want for her, Rosalina could no longer be part of his life.
Today would be their last day together. The inevitable decision, long overdue, smothered his heart like a dark stain.
He kissed her forehead, led her back to bed and tucked her under the sheet. When he slipped into bed beside her, she rolled onto her side and turned off the lamp. The marina lights once again gave the room a warm glow.
âI love you,' she said.
âYou too, babe.' He wouldn't say it. He never had and now he never would.
Rosalina closed the front door behind her and strolled towards the marina. It was only a short walk and soon she was breathing in the crisp, salty air. She allowed the strong morning sun to bolster her mood. The smell of frying bacon wafted towards her and had her instantly planning her menu for the day. In the slight breeze, heavy ropes clanged against towering masts with their own creative staccato.
She waved to familiar faces as she made her way along the floating pontoon to Archer's motor yacht.
sleek lines showed off her power, and shiny chrome railings proved she was loved.
Rosalina headed straight to her favourite place on the yacht: the galley. Archer would seek her out when his stomach began to rumble â she had no doubt about that. Pretty soon she was whizzing around the kitchen with the skills she'd mastered at one of Italy's most prestigious culinary schools, although she was quick to admit her love of cooking came from her beloved Nonna. She sighed as she thought of her grandmother, the woman who'd practically raised her in what she called the Kitchen of Life. Nonna's constant mantra was âeat, then we talk'. Food solved everything.